US offers a working invitation to Taiwan’s president for Washington summit

While Washington has endorsed China’s One China policy, that has not stopped various countries from hosting Taiwan’s leader

An official invitation to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to attend a political summit in Washington this month has further complicated US-China relations, just as Washington signalled a hard line on Beijing.

The invitation to Taiwan’s president comes less than three months after she returned from the United States after 14 months at the time when she was treated for cancer.

China has been deeply suspicious of Tsai, which has caused friction with Washington. The Taiwan leader had taken office pledging to maintain the status quo and avoid any moves towards independence.

Tsai had previously attended the so-called “Summit for Democracy” hosted by John F Kennedy’s government in June 1961 – during his presidential campaign – and later attended the summit in Washington of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in July 1985.

“In accordance with international practice, the Trump administration has invited several countries’ leaders including the leaders of Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan for a dialogue of the development of democracy,” the US representative at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, Scott R Rowe, said.

His comments marked the first time the Trump administration has publicly acknowledged Taiwan as a candidate for a conference-level meeting. The Trump administration did not provide a date.

While the US has formally recognized only Beijing, the 1979 One China policy has allowed US companies and governments to continue to engage with Taiwan.

It is the first summit hosted by Asean since the group began in 1967 and marks the latest sign of growing US-China discord in the region.

Rowe pointed out “the long-standing – and in fact rare – practice of inviting countries’ leaders who are democratically elected” to the summits.

Taiwan is a separate political entity from China and self-ruled Taiwan has a separate government. Beijing’s position is that Taiwan is part of China and wants Taiwan to be formally annexed.

Washington has not ruled out recognising China one day but has expressed concern about Beijing’s growing military and economic might.

China is “very interested” in Taiwan’s presence at the meeting, “and this shows the rationale” for China to aggressively act on Taiwan, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“On the one hand, there will be lots of outcries, demonstrations, drama – from Taiwan, from Washington, from the Chinese government. But hopefully, this will push and bring everybody together,” Rowe said.

The conference will be co-hosted by the United States, which has not accepted Beijing’s stance on the sovereignty of Taiwan, and Myanmar.

China considers Taiwan to be a renegade province and has warned against hosting talks with its government as it conducts military drills around the island.

However, it is not clear whether Beijing is encouraging such an approach.

The most significant overture from Beijing since Tsai returned to Taiwan in May has been a letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping to US president Donald Trump encouraging closer cooperation.

Tsai’s visit to the US in July was blocked by Republicans in Congress who argue that she is trying to push for formal independence.

Her meetings with the Trump administration included senior US administration officials who advise on national security policy and the National Security Council chairman.

Those interactions signalled a new distance between the US and Tsai, who entered office promising closer ties with Washington.

Senior US Senate Republican John Cornyn voiced concern on Monday about efforts by some groups in the US Congress to seek to halt further Taiwanese participation in the US government.

“It is unfortunate that some members of Congress are focusing solely on ‘good guys’ and ignoring China’s continued human rights abuses and actions in the region,” he said in a statement.

Ties between China and Taiwan hit their worst point in years during Tsai’s 13-day visit in July after Beijing cut off communications and dozens of Taiwanese people were detained.

Regional experts said it appeared Beijing had strengthened its ties with some elements in Congress to further its efforts to influence US policy on Taiwan.

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